PAHO frowns on relaxation of COVID restriction measures

HEAD of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa F Etienne has called out countries in the region for relaxation of restriction measures amidst worsening outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

Addressing PAHO’s weekly virtual briefing yesterday, she pointed to the spread of highly transmissible variants, and the slack in protocols such as social distancing. “We are not acting like a region in the midst of a worsening outbreak. More people have been infected with COVID in our region in the last seven days than most of the weekly case averages we saw last year. And our weekly deaths outnumber those of any week in 2020,” she stated.Dr Etienne pointed to increased reports of crowded hospitals, shortages of medical supplies and challenges with providing proper care for patients in the health systems. “Despite ongoing transmission in many places, restrictions have been relaxed. Crowds are back, and people are gathering indoors and taking public transportation, often without masks.”

She said the rise in infections across the region is, therefore, “alarming but not surprising; it’s time for a reality check”.

The PAHO director stressed that the region needs to remain cognisant of just how dangerous COVID-19 is, and that for most countries, vaccines will not stop this wave of the pandemic as there are simply not enough vaccines available to protect everyone in the countries that are most vulnerable.In the last week more than 1.3 million people in the Americas have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the region and close to 36,000 have died from the virus.

PAHO said South America continues to be the epicentre of the pandemic in the region with the recent spike in cases in the Amazon and neighbouring states in Brazil. Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and some sections of Bolivia are also experiencing a sharp rise in cases.

In the Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico and smaller islands like Curacao, Bermuda and Aruba have also been reporting an increase in new cases.

Dr Etienne noted that more than 247 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the Americas so far and that since March PAHO’s revolving fund has helped deliver more than three million doses on behalf of the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility to 28 countries in the region.

However, she said over the last few weeks the suppliers of COVAX vaccines have run into constraints, leading to a slowing of deliveries, which will not normalise until a few more weeks.

Dr Etienne noted that at least 10 different COVID vaccines are now in use across the region. She also advised that PAHO is expecting further recommendations regarding reports of blood clots among individuals with low platelets. Again, she reminded that almost 200 million people around the world have received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine with rare reports of adverse effects.

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